Metal Finishing magazine’s Reginald Tucker, an Elsevier staffer based in New York, is set to become MPR’s new editor. He will be ably assisted by Ken Brookes and Joe Capus, who will both continue to develop content for the title.
It could be seen as something of a wrench to give up the editorship of MPR, but with the intervention of health issues I’m looking at it as a new opportunity. Over the enjoyable 10 years or so that I was in the seat there were occasions where stories, or more often the vague hint of stories, came up that would be worth following up, but which would have taken just too much time or budget to be feasible. With more time available, maybe that will change.
Almost as soon as I was in the door at Elsevier, I was out again and on the way to the European Powder Metallurgy Association’s conference and exhibition, held in Nice in 2001. These were good days for mainstream PM. Aside from the absence of many Americans at that show in the aftermath of 9/11, there was much to be seen, heard and learned. Not least, of course, were the personalities who ran or influenced the industry.
Back then the numbers game was always positive. PM parts made up more and more components in the drive train areas of US automobiles and trucks. And even if the manufacturing technique was not fully trusted by European and Japanese car makers, who produced higher revving engines attached to hard-working gearboxes, that happy day would come. Waiting in the wings were demonstrably ‘smart’ techniques such as metal injection moulding (MIM), which even then was slated to turn over US$1 billion a year ‘in the very near future.’
A shadow was cast over that future by the 2005 Delphi Chapter 11 filing which was a major factor in putting the skids under the Detroit motor industry. The deeply ironic context of this ’thunderbolt’ event was well appreciated by those who only a few months before had listened to a senior Delphi speaker tell us all how we needed to work harder! In the event, the more exotic earnings figures had to wait a little while some lumps and bumps were sorted out.
But today MIM is a thriving business around the world with its virtues far better appreciated across a range of fields rather wider than automotive technologies alone. The US is home to about 50% of the global metal powder industry, but the recession-hit second half of the last decade was not a good one for US manufacturing industry. As it was, much reduced activity in the car plants soon backed down the PM supply chain to the powder metal producers, which in turn had to look carefully at major expenditure such as plant replacement, thereby hitting the machine manufacturers. And if that wasn’t enough, the banking collapse and consequent recession that followed made sure that weaker companies were harrowed out.
Although the US is the biggest consumer of PM products, the industry has its historic roots in Germany and it was instructive to see how the German/Austrian/Swiss Mittelstand coped with bad times. The Mittelstand is made up of a legion of small and medium-sized family-owned firms. Its products are well-engineered and built to last – not cheap, yet able to hold their own against Chinese competition.
Life just wouldn’t be the same if we didn’t have the European Commission to make us laugh. The Commission’s behaviour regularly beggars belief, whether ruling on the shape of bananas or, as more recently, demanding a whopping 7% rise in member countries’ contributions to its budgets. It has to be said that Budget Commissioner Janusz Lewandowski demonstrated considerable sang froid in the face of a veritable tsunami of criticism that flowed in as member states got a grip of what the proposal would mean in terms of further pressure on their coffers. The common sentiment that emerged was that if anything in a time of cost cutting and austerity, the Commission should be looking to trim its budget by €1 billion or so, rather than asking for increases. Lewandowski was unabashed. “Our budget is a modest one,” he said. “It is neither the cause nor solution to member states’ debt and deficit problems.” Chutzpah? Most certainly. Will he get the money? Almost certainly not.